RSS

Literature Commentary: War and Peace

31 Aug

(Originally published January 22, 2009)

After many months (and years) of reading, I figured I might as well keep a running commentary on the stuff I’ve read recently. So without
further ado…introducing the “Literature Commentary”…it’ll function sorta like a blog, except it’ll only be updated weekly, monthly…or
whenever I happen to finish whatever I’m reading at the moment. 🙂
Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is considered a classic. I’m not exactly sure why. If it were published today, it likely wouldn’t have gotten
past a sharp editor. Some parts of it are definitely worth reading (and highly memorable) but the book is dragged down by tedious
passages of lengthy historical commentary. It’s sort of like one of the really, really bad G.A. Henty novels.
The book follows the story of the Rostov family – respected members of the Russian aristocracy. In a lot of respects, the domestic
scenes mirror those in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” in the sense that they focus little if at all on the poorer members of society.
Since the book is set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars (specifically, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia) it avoids a lot of the controversy
surrounding the later Russian Revolution. Political diatribes are (luckily) absent from the narrative.
The main characters are Pierre (a wealthy Russian gentleman afflicted by alcoholism and a desperate search for a purpose) and Natasha
Rostova, a young Russian countess on the cusp of womanhood. As the story progresses, most of the other characters fade into the
background. This could have been because Tolstoy allegedly based Pierre’s character on his own life, but the lack of well-developed
supporting characters really hurts the book.
The book’s best moments come between pages 300 and 500. These are the ones that really get into Pierre and Natasha’s characters and
make the reader care more about what happens to them. Several deliciously evil villains (including a Mr. Wickham-like character and a
coldly beautiful femme fatale) add to the increasing tension. The “war” aspect of the title fades into the background, and this is actually
a good thing.
Tolstoy can’t write battle scenes like G.A. Henty or Bernard Cornwell – he relies on complex descriptions of military strategy that bog
down the plot. A slew of cardboard characters (with overly-similar names) do nothing to advance the story and merely confuse the
reader.
Unfortunately, Tolstoy doesn’t continue to deliver the excitement of his earlier chapters. The book’s denouement is tedious and
drawn-out, explaining in detail things that would have been better left to the reader’s imagination.
I love reading classic literature. In most cases, I think a true “classic” will be both readable and meaningful. While “War and Peace” does
contain some interesting insights on human nature, these few moments come at the expense of a truly compelling story or sympathetic
characters. And that’s not even mentioning the laborious pages of history that encumber the narrative. Overall, “War and Peace” might
be a good choice for a summer day when you have nothing else to do, but when it comes to truly powerful classic literature, authors like
Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens are better bets.
VERDICT: 5.5/10
A decent book with some interesting moments, but probably not worth your time.

Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is considered a classic. I’m not exactly sure why. If it were published today, it likely wouldn’t have gotten past a sharp editor. Some parts of it are definitely worth reading (and highly memorable) but the book is dragged down by tedious passages of lengthy historical commentary. It’s sort of like one of the really, really bad G.A. Henty novels.

The book follows the story of the Rostov family – respected members of the Russian aristocracy. In a lot of respects, the domestic scenes mirror those in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” in the sense that they focus little if at all on the poorer members of society. Since the book is set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars (specifically, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia) it avoids a lot of the controversy surrounding the later Russian Revolution. Political diatribes are (luckily) absent from the narrative.

The main characters are Pierre (a wealthy Russian gentleman afflicted by alcoholism and a desperate search for a purpose) and Natasha Rostova, a young Russian countess on the cusp of womanhood. As the story progresses, most of the other characters fade into the background. This could have been because Tolstoy allegedly based Pierre’s character on his own life, but the lack of well-developed supporting characters really hurts the book.

The book’s best moments come between pages 300 and 500. These are the ones that really get into Pierre and Natasha’s characters and make the reader care more about what happens to them. Several deliciously evil villains (including a Mr. Wickham-like character and a coldly beautiful femme fatale) add to the increasing tension. The “war” aspect of the title fades into the background, and this is actually a good thing.

Tolstoy can’t write battle scenes like G.A. Henty or Bernard Cornwell – he relies on complex descriptions of military strategy that bog down the plot. A slew of cardboard characters (with overly-similar names) do nothing to advance the story and merely confuse the reader.

Unfortunately, Tolstoy doesn’t continue to deliver the excitement of his earlier chapters. The book’s denouement is tedious and drawn-out, explaining in detail things that would have been better left to the reader’s imagination.

I love reading classic literature. In most cases, I think a true “classic” will be both readable and meaningful. While “War and Peace” does contain some interesting insights on human nature, these few moments come at the expense of a truly compelling story or sympathetic characters. And that’s not even mentioning the laborious pages of history that encumber the narrative. Overall, “War and Peace” might be a good choice for a summer day when you have nothing else to do, but when it comes to truly powerful classic literature, authors like Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens are better bets.

VERDICT: 5.5/10
A decent book with some interesting moments, but probably not worth your time.

Advertisements
 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 31, 2009 in Classic

 

2 responses to “Literature Commentary: War and Peace

  1. Ryan C. Walker

    August 14, 2012 at 12:27 am

    I’m sorry, but I whole heartedly disagree with this analysis. Please don’t let this review discourage anyone from reading the masterful tome.

    The reviewer missed the deep intonations of philosophy in every single passage, from the rejection of the afectations of high society, the purpose of life, vanity, the very bold, (and ancient) idea that history is the study of an innumerable, events that occur independent of each other to create history as a whole. Its a recurring, and glossed over by the reviewer.

    The supporting characters, from the vague, pietous, complex Princess Marya, to the Noble General Kutuzov, and the shallow Speransky and Prince Vassily, the charecters are well created and in many cases actual historical figures of the time period.

    Tolstoy admits he wants to blur the line between fiction and non-fiction. He does it admirably well through the lovable, bumbling, Pierre, the mischevious, yet dynamic Natasha, the cold calculating Prince Andrei, Princess Marya, Nickolai Rostov, and Kutuzov.

    I fell in love with Natasha, and Princess Marya, and sympathized with Pierre. Andrei’s wound scene, death scene, and reconciliation scene are moments that made me tear up, I so vividly felt the emotions.

    Please, pick up this book. Regardless of what this cynical reviewer has to say… This is a classic by anyone’s standard, and in this case, the length of the story only adds to its depth.

     
  2. Dedlyz

    February 8, 2014 at 5:39 am

    Thats being unrealistic from what you have written I believe that you are in a position to conclude that great classics are the ones written by Americans and you just cant accept that Tolstoy is a literature legend.. Isaac Bashevis Singer won the nobel prize in literature in 1974 and yet he cant be put in the same calibre as Leo Tolstoy.. Give us honest commentaries then your blog will be our home.

     

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: